In one sense, Ishmael Reed has had about as many careers subsumed under the word "writer" as a current literary figure can have --novelist, poet, publisher, editor and public intellectual ever-ready to tangle with anyone anytime anywhere in the name of what he thinks is right.
He is, after all, a man whose books include one called "Writin' is Fightin'." He's also a man who, in an era where the phrase "politically correct" was thought to mean something, could always be counted on to flout it. His engagement with feminists over what he's called "reckless eyeballing" was just one of the ways. He has also, at the height of the reputation for HBO's "The Wire" as a leading exhibit in American television's New Golden Age, taken on its creator David Simon in his anointing as Great American Artist and Righteous Voice. (Nor, in his recent writings, was he all that fond of the movie "Precious.")
With all of that, his tireless anthologies of work by his fellow writers over the years have been among the greatest source books in the discovery of true literary diversity that America has had in the last four decades. No one in his capacity as anthologist has been more tireless in introducing us to new writers of all colors and all traditions.
To put it mildly, that's a long way from growing up in he long ago termed "The Notorious Talbert Mall" on Buffalo's East Side. His Oakland residence has been, of course, as civic-minded as you might expect. But it's in the next few months that the great 75-year old writer will be honored in separate Buffalo events that make absolutely clear to one and all how very essential to the nation's literary life --and his singularity within it --this native son of Buffalo's East Side has become.
With an upcoming residence in April at the Burchfield Penny Arts Center, the first Buffalo event honoring Ishmael Reed is Just Buffalo's giving him its Literary Legacy Award at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the Lafayette Hotel, 391 Washington St.